The Lucky Iron Fish – Part Four of our Grand Challenges Canada series


Innovate Development is pleased to present a weekly series featuring projects funded and supported by Grand Challenges Canada. This is the final installment in a four-part series in which we cover topics surrounding mothers and children in the Global South.

For more information about Grand Challenges Canada, please see the bottom of this post or go to their website,


Lucky Iron Fish – A lucky little fish to fight iron deficiency among women in Cambodia

lucky iron fish 1Note: This is an update to an earlier article about the Lucky Iron Fish project found here.

In Cambodia, six in 10 women are anemic due to iron deficiency in their diets, causing premature labour, hemorrhaging during childbirth and the impaired brain development of their babies. Usually obtained through red meat or other iron-rich foods, a small chunk of iron added to water in the cooking pot can release a life-saving iron supplement. But attempts to persuade people to do so were unsuccessful.

On a 2008 study mission in Cambodia, University of Guelph researcher Chris Charles thought of creating a piece of iron shaped like a local river fish believed to bring good luck and fortune. His simple idea succeeded beyond all expectations. Women happily placed the Lucky Iron Fish in their cooking pots and, in the months that followed, anemia in the village fell dramatically. A Lucky Iron Fish is small enough to be stirred easily but large enough to provide about 75 per cent of daily iron requirements.

“The results are stunning,” says Dr. Alastair Summerlee, President of the University of Guelph and Chair of the Board of Directors of Lucky Iron Fish. “Initial results show a huge decrease in anemia and the village women say they feel good, experience no dizziness and have fewer headaches. The iron fish is incredibly powerful.”

lucky iron fish 2Small businesses across Cambodia will produce and distribute the fish with quality control measures in place. About 7.5 cm (3 inches) long, and made from recycled material at a cost of about $5 each, the iron fish provides health benefits for roughly three years.

“Our goal is to produce 10,000 Lucky Iron Fish this year and another 150,000 next year,” says Gavin Armstrong, President and CEO of Lucky Iron Fish.

Taking the project to scale offers profound potential health benefits to many women in Cambodia with potential markets throughout the world. Grand Challenges Canada’s $500,000 loan to Lucky Iron Fish is part of a total scale-up financing package of $860,000 and augments earlier commitments of equity investors, Innovation Guelph, and the University of Guelph.

About Grand Challenges Canada

In its latest round of grants, Grand Challenges Canada, which is funded by the Government of Canada, has announced $12 million worth of funding for 65 innovative projects targeting mothers’, children’s and newborn’s health related challenges in Low Resource Countries

There are two words that perfectly capture Grand Challenges Canada’s approach: Integrated InnovationTM. Integrated Innovation is the coordinated application of scientific/technological, social and business innovation to develop solutions to complex challenges. This approach does not discount the singular benefits of each of these types of innovation alone, but rather highlights the powerful synergies that can be realized by aligning all three. It is about turning innovation into practice on the ground; about engaging the local community where a project is instituted from the outset.

Grand Challenges Canada is funded by the Government of Canada and is dedicated to supporting Bold Ideas with Big impact in global health. The organization has invested in hundreds of projects in low- and middle income countries, coming from innovators from Canada or resource-constrained countries and is led by Dr. Peter A. Singer. His latest Annual Letter demonstrates how after four years, Grand Challenges Canada has evolved into a platform that nurtures innovative solutions in global health. How it offers opportunities for social enterprises and impact investors to generate measurable and sustainable social impact.

On the 22nd of May 2014, Grand Challenges Canada announced its latest round of funding: 65 innovations helping to improve and save the lives of Mothers, Newborn and Children in low-resource communities.

Of the recent grants announced, 61 are seed-level proof-of-concept grants in the Stars in Global Health portfolio, valued at $112,000 each, and four transition-to-scale projects collectively valued at $5.2 million. These projects run the gamut from mobile-device based Tuberculosis detection in India to a low-smoke multi-fuel cooking stove in Nepal. The hallmark of each of these projects is that the concepts all involve local community members to engage the population whose lives these innovations will seek to improve. Additionally we are supporting the scaling up of a project in Nepal at seeks to improve sanitation by producing and marketing simple low-cost latrines that can be installed in a matter of hours. The key being that the purchase and installation of a properly plumbed loo is a matter of pride for the rural folk in Nepal. This demonstrates an innovative approach to solving a health crisis that – to this day – claims the lives of many children under the age of five.

In the long run, Grand Challenges Canada is committed to scaling up its impact by investing in organizations with sustainable growth prospects. The articles in this series are examples of our latest round of scaling investments to innovators around the globe.

Shouri Bagchi

Shouri Bagchi

Shouri Bagchi works in communications for Grand Challenges Canada and is currently completing his IMBA in Strategy & Marketing at the Schulich School of Business.

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